There is a divide rising in this community, one that echoes the many dichotomies that are fracturing this country, splitting it in two and then two again. This is a divide that is not new to this Valley, that existed from its founding, but one that is exacerbated by the unprecedented moment in which we live. It is artificial divide between “us” and “them,” when it is
“we” that is the only reality.
The Vail Valley has always been a locus for migrants; those leaving their homelands for the promises of a freer, healthier, better life. Some stay very temporarily, for a brief recreational respite, an escape that leaves them rejuvenated. Others plant their roots, dig into the community, raise their kids, and watch their grandchildren hit lines that they once thought were impossible. The interface between these two species of migrants has always been equal parts fraught, fantastic, and fascinating.
In the wake of the coronavirus, with the wholescale reevaluation of priorities, mountain towns have seen a more permanent influx. Whether it is tourists that are staying for two months instead of a week, or second-home owners contemplating a switch to first homes, the balance is once more shifting. With this adjustment comes the corresponding friction accompanying any change, a building of resentment, both valid and overblown.
In this time of quarantine, when seclusion is necessary and human contact is epidemiologically unwise, it is only natural for residents to be protective of their space. Emotions are heightened by the stresses of the unknown and of total disarray. The feeling of invasion is bolstered by the fear of viral overrun, not irrational given that the incoming parties come here to escape their own COVID hotspots. But these concerns cannot completely outweigh our Valley’s longstanding predilection to hospitality. It is our lifeblood, both financially and spiritually. We cannot be rude and jaded; we must be optimistic and friendly. That is who we are.
Hospitality has its limits, cannot be abused, lest it be considered exploitation. I have personally been privy to some interactions with out-of-towners that have been downright outrageous, blatant transgressions of decency that I have never seen here before. Even accounting for recency bias, it seems particularly ridiculous right now. Unsafe, disrespectful, and entitled behavior on the part of visitors has left residents dumbfounded and frustrated and prickly.
Two populations that are already prone to animosity, who are now more susceptible to offense, are now competing over more scarce resources in real estate, restaurant tables, trails, and open spaces. It is not a tenable situation. The most immediate solution is to realize that everyone is just a person, not a local or a tourist or a Texan or a crusty old ski bum. Each human that comes to this Valley does so in order to be awed, whether for the first or the millionth time. That is what unifies us.
We have the means for détente, and should have the will. Permanent inhabitants: take a step back, take a deep breath, see the bigger picture, experience empathy, consider the possibilities. Visitors and other new arrivals: understand that you are a guest in the home of others and act accordingly. Invest in this community, and not just financially. This means not only extra helpings of courtesies, of tips, of conscientiousness. It also requires getting involved in local non-profits, in volunteering, in adding to the discourse, in contributing to the academics and social lives of our children.
There is no us, there is no them, we are all in this together.